*These are the opinions of Meredyth the MAC and not necessarily anyone else affiliated with Diversity Committee, my CORE team, or College Government*
Currently Spectrum is in talks around renaming and reshaping Dyke Ball. I’ve been watching the conversation unfold on Facebook, tumblr, and have been a part of side conversations around this issue since my first year. From what I’ve gathered people seem to be split into relatively two camps: There are some people that support the name change and the reimagining of the space and there are some people who have gotten worried by the idea of changing a “tradition”.
As a complete history nerd, I am someone that loves traditions. I am a strong believer that traditions at their best are meant to form a cohesive sense of community. That feeling of connection to the history of my community makes me feel like I’m participating in something important.
However it should be acknowledged that throughout history, communities have created and enacted traditions that have later been critiqued for perpetuating the marginalization of certain communities, for simply being ineffective in achieving a sense of community, or for not realizing the goals that the tradition was originally set up to accomplish.
Do we keep these traditions exactly as they are purely “because they are traditions” or do we help the tradition evolve to better serve the community the tradition is supposed to be serving? Let’s not forget that it is people and communities that create traditions in the first place. Let’s not forget that these traditions are never created in isolation, they are always created in a particular historical, social, and political context.
In the past many LGBTQ identified students at Wellesley have reported feeling like Dyke Ball was not a safe space for many reasons. It seems odd to me to be using the argument of keeping Dyke Ball the way it is “because it is tradition” when the whole reason that said tradition is up for debate in the first place is because it is not serving many of the people that make up the very community that the event was intended to be a safe space for. It also seems odd that we are obsessed with preserving a tradition the way we believe it to be when the reality is that the space (and even the name) of Dyke Ball has changed since it was created.
Crash Course in Dyke Ball History: In 1993, this event was originally called the Benefit Ball. It had two purposes: raising money for breast cancer and AIDS treatment/awareness and expanding the queer dances that Wellesley Lesbians and Friends (which was what Spectrum was called back in the day) used to hold in dorm living rooms. This was 1993. It slowly became an organized event not only for the Wellesley queer community, but queer communities at other New England universities. Students identifying as straight did attend, but to show support, not because they felt any particular ownership of the space/tradition. The event was casually referred to by attendees as gay prom or dyke ball. It is important to note that popular movements to reclaim the word dyke, which was and still is used as a pejorative against lesbians, was beginning to be more widely reclaimed around this time (the late 1980’s-1990’s). I believe that the “official” name change (which let’s just remember was also decided by a group of students just like us) happened in late 1990’s/early 2000’s. Dyke Ball would probably have never been called Dyke Ball in the 1970’s or even the early 1980’s. Dyke Ball was only called Dyke Ball because of the social, historical, and political context that revolved around the word “dyke” at that time.
We arrive to 2012 in a different social, historical, and political context.
The names that Spectrum has proposed for the event’s name change include Queer Prom, Queer Ball, or Queer Affair. The word queer, which was and still is also used as an anti-gay pejorative, was not as popular of an identity label until the late 2000’s marked by when the Q started being widely added onto what had previously been “LGBT”, society saw a growing popularity of the word on the internet, both the activism of certain groups like Queer Nation as well as Queer Theory within the academy had been established for around a decade, etc. So just like Dyke Ball wouldn’t have been called Dyke Ball in the 1970’s, it also would have never been called Queer Ball because of the social, historical, and political context that revolved around the word “queer” at that time. Now let me be clear. The definition and history of the word dyke and the definition and history of the word queer are quite different. By presenting their slightly parallel histories I only mean to situate this conversation we’re having in a particular context. While “dyke” is an identity term that has been reappropriated by the lesbian and bisexual community, queer has been reappropriated to be used as, among many things, an umbrella term for both sexual and gender minorities that identify as non-binary and non heterosexual. The word queer has also been adopted as a political label by those that identify their politics as rejecting both heteronormative and homonormative politics. (Note: Queer identities mean different things to different people. While I attempted to present a basic definition of this word for the purposes of this article there are so many different ways that people define their queer identity).
If this is where we’re at right now, if so many students on this campus use queer to identify themselves, if this identity label is so important to so many students, then why are we being so quick to dismiss the adoption of the word ‘queer’ as simply an attempt by Spectrum to be “more P.C.”? This claim dismisses the powerful history of reclaiming and redefining the word ‘queer’.
Who are we keeping the name ‘Dyke Ball’ for?
Changing the name does not separate us from the history of the event. The history of this event (a history, may I remind you, that did not start off calling the event Dyke Ball) has been continuous and ever changing. I think that changing the name could be a powerful signal to our community that the priorities and atmosphere of the space are going to change to make the event a safer and more positive space for Wellesley’s LGBTQ identified students. Safer spaces do not just happen and they should not just be assumed. We have to intentionally and actively make them safer.
How does the name Dyke Ball create the affirming space that it is supposedly supposed to be? Why do we think that it is unimportant that certain members of the LGBTQ community on campus feel alienated by the name or the way that the event currently operates? What sense of community is this event suppsed to be striving for?
If people really want to keep the name Dyke Ball I challenge you to come up with a better reason than “it’s a tradition” and then examine your own stake in why you want to keep the name. I have no doubts that Dyke Ball or Queer Affair or whatever it is called will look different in 12 years. Why? The student body is going to change. The times are going to change. What words we find important and affirming are going to change. Will I get upset when I read about students reformatting the tradition to better serve our community? No. Why? That is what they are supposed to do.
But it is not their turn yet. It’s ours.
—Meredyth the MAC
Want to read more about Dyke Ball history: Here’s this 2003 Article from the Wellesley News!
Also in the main room of Clapp library (the one with all the portraits) check out the LGBTQ History and Disability Awareness Month display of books if you wanted to have some great and interesting things to read over fall break!
1) Heteronormativity- ‘The institutions, structures of understanding and practical orientations that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent- that is, organised as a sexuality-but also privileged’ – Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, ‘Sex in Public’ (Ex: Heteronormativity can be exemplified by the fact that you might, without realizing it, assume that most of the people you pass on the street identify as straight/heterosexual)
2) Homonormativity- ‘A politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption’—Lisa Duggan in ‘The Twilight of Equality’